Today’s Chef is the Spotlight is Executive Chef Benoit Chargy of Hilton Kuala Lumpur. With over 20 years of experience in pastry, 12 of which he spent as Executive Pastry Chef in 5-star establishments, Chargy is undoubtedly a talented chef. Today, we bring you on a journey.. an interview that reveals his path to becoming an accomplished executive chef in one of the top hotel brands worldwide.
Cooking was always something that interested me from a very young age. Food has been an important part of my French culture. Every occasion was celebrated with food, family sat around the table and connected over a meal. Being French certainly helped, we love our food and good quality food. Fresh markets in my hometown were the norm and I wouldn’t hesitate to follow my parents when they were there to buy the freshest, seasonal produce.
2. What are three adjectives that define your cuisine? Please give us an idea about the plans you have for the culinary menu at KL Hilton.
Progressive, desirable and inventive. Food concepts are always changing, guest’s desires and palates are continuously developing, as a Chef it is my job to keep encouraging our guests to come and dine whilst enjoying new experiences. KL Hilton has just completed a new revamp and we are always developing our menus to compete and exceed our guest expectations. However at the same time, I know what works and what proves popular with our clientele. A blend of both the old and new, take Chambers Grill for example; our new grill. We strive to serve the best quality products, whether it is the finest cut of beef or something as simple as a delicious serving of asparagus, not over complicated but full of flavor. Or Vasco’s, where our guests can enjoy a wide variety of dishes, bringing international dining to one location. The choices are extensive and we are always looking for ways to explore different cuisine concepts.
3. Where does your inspiration come from?
Like all chefs, international cooking is inspiring. Working in Asia has certainly opened my eyes to many different ideas, techniques and approaches. The selection is vast and taking something traditional but adding my own twist is a rewarding challenge. I am always inspired by fellow chefs.
4. What are your essential ingredients, the thing you couldn’t live without?
That’s a tough one. I would have to say spice, fresh herbs, garlic and butter. There are many more but they would be my first choice.
5. Who were your teachers? How was your best experience in the kitchen? What was your worst?
As a young 15 year old apprentice in Cannes, France, I had the opportunity to work at a renowned restaurant and learn under the guidance of Chef Grosdenier, he was my first teacher and is still a friend today. He took the time to show me the ropes, something I am very grateful for. I can truthfully say he taught me the most. It wasn’t always easy, in fact it was very tough at times but he prepared me for what was ahead. Following that, I progressed to working for the world famous Hernest Brothers in Cannes and then moved onto a Michelin Star restaurant in St Tropez. Having been taught a solid foundation, I knew that a career in cooking was in my future. My worst experience would have to be being shouted at by several of my superiors. Back then, kitchens could be volatile and stressful, tempers flared! Some of them made Gordon Ramsey look calm!
My best experience? I would have to say as a young chef, cooking for celebrities such as Tom Cruise or Diana Ross was a highlight. Later on I had the chance to cook for Alain Ducasse and Joel Robuchon, both world famous Michelin Star Chefs, as a young, impressionable cook I was pretty star struck!
6. What does KL’s culinary scene need, to acquire more prestige?
KL’s culinary scene has developed immensely over the last 10 years. I have been fortunate to live in Malaysia since 2004 and the number of up and coming chefs, whether international or Malaysian has increased immensely. International influence and the fact that customers are well travelled have encouraged that growth. There are always new concepts opening up, in hotels or independent restaurants. Perhaps a Michelin Star awarded chef would be a step forward?
7. What do you think about the newfound trend for all things organic?
I fully encourage it. Nowadays we are health conscious and understand the benefit of eating a healthier diet. Combining the 2 makes perfect sense. As a matter of fact, a friend of mine has just gained the world’s first Michelin Star for a fully, organic restaurant in Monte Carlo. Times are changing and we need to embrace them.
8. Do you feel children are eating more complex food than before? Do you think they are happier eating the same food as mum and dad?
Absolutely. These days we can introduce children to new flavors and produce easily. In my experience, parents who enjoy good food, tend to have children who will try new things. Are kids always happy eating the same food as Mum and Dad? Perhaps not always….
9. What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
As pastry is my background, I would have to say sweet & salty, for example “salted butter caramel” or the unexpected, “raspberry and chilli”.
10. Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks? Would you only hire cooks with or without culinary school background?
Culinary requires a solid base for development. Learning the basics is essential for any chef to excel in their career and I speak from my own experience. Nowadays the simple basics are not always taught, we need to go back to basics and then grow from there. Cooking is a science.
I would always encourage some kind of training to aspiring chefs, whether it is from a culinary school or learning on the job through In-house training. Training is knowledge and knowledge is strength. Whilst a culinary school education is a plus, I would consider a chef who applied and demonstrated motivation and passion.